Snow and bitter cold are also not uncommon in Western New York, which always made for an interesting experience in said outdoor rinks. My team used to stay in the warm embrace of the locker rooms up until the very last second, occasionally forgoing warm-ups in favor of extracting as much warmth from the musty room then having to endure the barking of our coaches who herded us like sheep in combat gear onto the ice.
Before too long, my feet would began to scream in agony, refuse to propel my body across the sub-zero plane, and force me back to the locker room where hand warmers awaited.
My skates would be shed, I would pull the training table over to the hand warmers, flip myself up-side-down and enjoy the rush of blood to my head as my feet bathed in warm, tropical air. I spent many, what would amass to be hours, staring upside-down at a parallel wall of many a dingy locker room. My teammates would laugh until their skates froze to their feet and soon, they came to enjoy my genius and follow suit.
Now that North Dakota is my home, I admit, I knew nothing about bitter cold before I moved here. Tall snow boots were enough to get by back home in a place where the snow reaches rooftops and the average winter temperature hangs out just above zero. I used to think 40 degrees was worthy of shorts, now, a sauna constitutes any temperature over 28 degrees. We've hunted in -26F, spearfished in -35, and had to take the trash out to the curb in -52- all of which would be fine, comfortable even, if I didn't have to worry about my bony, child-sized feet.
I've said before and I'll say it again, I have extremely small feet, fat-free appendages that are so prone to arctic temperatures that it becomes excruciatingly painful to walk or stand. I've tried, in vain, to find boots that accommodate my foot size without compromising on warmth or durability, as I generally wear children's shoes. This all changed when my husband decided to come home with a new pair of boots.
They were called Muck and he was quite smitten with them, he praised their fit, the way they lovingly snuggled his tired feet and warmed them like two little ovens in a frosty glade in a cheery town in Switzerland. He continually brought up his feet warmth in an irritating way as I curled myself in a small ball in the middle of a frozen pond whilst snowshoeing, wishing my feet would warm of their own accord and yearning for the day the fire-producing elves in my hubby's boots would be forced to abandon their work in protest of his unbearable foot stench.
Unfortunately, his feet didn't stop warming, his cheerfulness didn't end, and the magical elves continued their curious work inside his toasty boots. So, my interest was piqued and contacted this Muck company via their Twitter account, seeking information on their sizes and what, if anything, could be done for my poor, sad feet.
What's colder than ice, you wonder? The water beneath it, of course!*
It was the third hour into what would be a very boring, unfruitful darkhouse spearfishing adventure top the ice of a large lake in North Dakota. I had made my fish decoy swim with the current, bobble on the surface and even dance to Hank Williams III with his pal, Frank, but nothing made the monster northern pass by. I began wondering if tastier, frozen fare was necessary as bait so I lowered my Arctic Pros into the hole and waited.
After about 45 minutes, no fish had passed and amazingly I could still feel my feet. Upon extraction and inspection, I found that the only thing that froze was my pant leg, a minor defeat in the thrilling battle of Cold vs. Foot. This highly impressed me, as my appendages generally freeze in the tree stand at about 30 degrees, and yet, here I sit- with warm feet submerged in freezing water, in an ice house, in North Dakota.
What's even colder than the water beneath 3 feet of ice, you wonder? Having to let your dogs out at 4am in January in the arctic, of course!
Avery, Titus, and Dixie are our trio of lovable rescues who represent a wide array of tolerance for the cold. Titus, pit-boxer mix extraordinaire, is short hair in a way that is unfair for this outdoors-adoring canine for he stands about three minutes in the cold to do his business before hurdling back into our warm home. Avery, defective black lab, and Dixie, train wreck corgi-blue heeler, embody the mindset of sled dogs with their unabashed love for snow and cold temperatures which makes their outdoor time quite lengthy.
Months of letting the trio out in the middle of the night is probably the majority of the reason why I have fallen ill twice this chilly winter for I slumber in a pair of the husband's boxers and an old tank top, not the best outfit for Antarctic exploration. When the howls to be let out reach the point that the neighbors start complaining, it's time to extract myself from my down comforters. Generally, I would throw on my slippers and brave the cold best I can, huddled against the doorframe as the trio bound happily in the yard. This all changed when the boot of Muck prodded into my life.
Their fit is interesting, for the part around the calves is quite tight and therefore, heat is trapped in the lower part, acting as the magical furnace I had been so jealous over. So, without a second thought towards a coat or maybe even a hat, I threw on my boots with too much glorious abandon for 2am and led my trio into battle.
The temperature read -52 as my breath began to freeze in the garage and out into the yard. The dense blanket of shocking stars made the windchill partially bearable in my flimsy boxers. As I watched the dogs play in a way only they can in this cold, this snow globe of a place, I didn't give a second thought to my feet for they weren't screaming in agony, weren't pulling my attention away from the stunning spectacle before my eyes, they were warm in their boot of Muck, as quiet as the yard before me, save for playful barks emitted from the wound-up trio.
All mystery, elves, talking feet, and cold-induced illnesses aside, I must admit, these are some pair of boots. While I had to compromise with a bigger size for a taller boot, I don't regret it for these boots seem to work well with a little wiggle room. When paired with a good pair of heavy, wool socks- these boots cannot be beat in terms of warmth, which shocks me after so many years of having to endure cold feet. As stated before, the fit takes a little getting used to (I would highly suggest breaking them in before, let's say, driving in them, for the stiffness may make things like, let's say, breaking before smashing into a particularly large and icy snow pile, quite difficult) but the fit keeps heat in comfortably, making your foot oven all the more enjoyable.
What's the best way to end a gear review post, you wonder? With another product-centric tale, of course!
I knew the bank was steep before my thumb urged the snowmobile down it. I thought about how I hadn't seen a trail marker since I passed over the dirt road and how there were no other snowmobile tracks on this getting-more-steep-by-the-second bank. I then began to think about how much it was going to hurt when the sled began to roll down the hill, taking my rag-doll body along for the journey.
Trying, without succeeding, to pull my thumb from the acceleration as the sled began to dip precariously down the embankment, was all I could do as the sled crashed into a barbed wire fence, slightly tipping over as the engine died.
Laying on the snow, I began to scream, as if anyone could hear me within my dome of a helmet. My leg was caught under the sled and refused to budge, the same leg, conveniently enough whose pocket contained my cell phone. I screamed a little more, just to get the hysterical huntress out of my system, collected myself, and worked on getting out of this predicament.
After a few moments of righting myself, I began to pull my leg from its entrapment. One suction-cup sound later and my leg was free not only from the sled, but also from the boot of Muck which stayed in place in the sled. I was momentarily shocked, since the boot was so tight as to keep my feet warm, I figured the same feature would be detriment here but I was relieved to find the opposite true.
Once my knight in shining DuraMax came to the rescue, we surveyed the damage. The Polaris windscreen was in pieces, my helmet suffered two lengthy gouges via barbed wire, my old snow pants suffered at the hands of the barbs as well, ripping down my trapped leg. But no broken bones or death had I, which caused enough for celebration to call the day a success.
What's the moral of the story, you wonder?
Plain and simple, if you're looking for a warm boot with enough hugging power to keep you warm, enough functionality to hunt and get out of precarious situations, and enough style to match the spectrum of camo hanging in your closet, then the boot of Muck is the way to go, especially if you are blessed enough to call the Arctic home..
*This is a fact that I made up so it could be wrong but it sounds scientific enough!
** BIG thank you to all at Muck boot who helped me make my selection and supplied my warm-footed self with a pair of Arctic Pros- y'all rock!